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Court strikes down anti-panhandling law

Sep 11, 2017

BY: CCNH-LFDA Highlights

A federal court struck down Manchester's anti-panhandling ordinance last week.

The facts of the case

The 2015 ordinance forbid anyone from exchanging an item with someone in a motor vehicle.

Manchester passed the ordinance after citizen complaints about aggressive panhandlers.  Panhandlers also caused some traffic safety issues when cars stopped unexpectedly at intersections.

The federal court ruled that the ordinance violated the First Amendment right to free speech because it penalized behavior that was not necessarily a safety hazard and only penalized pedestrians, not motorists.

Are cities criminalizing homelessness?

Elliott Berry of New Hampshire Legal Assistance praised the ruling for protecting the rights of homeless residents:

"No one wants to see a veteran of our armed forces panhandling for help on a street corner. But criminalizing this act of desperation, detaining and prosecuting people when they seek help, does nothing to solve the problems of poverty and homelessness in our state. In many cases, these ordinances may make it harder for people to get back on their feet by saddling them with a criminal record, fines and fees they have no ability to pay."

Is panhandling still a public safety issue?

This year Manchester made another attempt to curb panhandling by putting up signs that say, "Your generosity could lead to a fatality. Please donate to a local charity."  In a letter Manchester Chief of Police Enoch Willard wrote: 

"According to MPD records between 2015 to June 1, 2017 twenty-four (24) people that have been involved in panhandling have overdosed, requiring medical intervention, some of whom have overdosed multiple times. ... What the panhandlers do not need is money to be handed to them to facilitate their addiction.  This simple act of kindness could very well lead to their overdose or even death."

Manchester is still deciding whether or not to appeal the ruling.

Do you have an opinion on anti-panhandling laws?  Share your opinion in the comments below.

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